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TMI Client with Autism Shines on Stage with Jason Mraz

Updated: Feb 22

(Editor's Note: This story was written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

(Paela after a Shine performance and with Jason Mraz at a Shine rehearsal)

Growing up, Paela, who is on the autism spectrum, would have never guessed that she would perform on stage with Jason Mraz in his new musical Shine. She was always incredibly shy, so the thought of even being on stage, let alone with Jason, was so hard to imagine that when it actually came true she couldn’t believe it. The opportunity pushed Paela out of her comfort zone and helped her to make huge strides with facing her fears, which she knew she must do to seize this amazing opportunity.

(Paela on stage with Jason Mraz at the Belly Up. Photo Credit: Banding Together)

In 2017, Paela joined Banding Together in San Diego, Jason Mraz’ hometown. Jason was inspired to give back to local nonprofits by creating a musical based on the singer-songwriter’s catalog of songs including “I Won’t Give Up,” “I’m Yours,” and “The Remedy.” The musical presented by the Jason Mraz Foundation featured performances by local arts education nonprofit groups from Jason's own backyard including Banding Together, who brings music opportunities to individuals with special needs. Paela first met Jason when he joined Banding Together on stage at the Belly Up in Solana Beach for a Banding Together fundraiser.

In February 2020, Paela performed two sold out shows with Jason, Banding Together and other local nonprofit groups at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego. Paela, who is inspired by Jason’s work, as well as by Justin Bieber (who plays guitar and drums), performed on the drums. At first, performing made her feel embarrassed, but with each rehearsal her confidence grew and she found the courage she would need to perform in front of an audience of nearly 1,500 for each show.

(Paela performing on the drums in Shine. Photo Credit: Eric Morgensen Photography)

“Each of these organizations was chosen because of their commitment to inclusive arts education and the advancement of equality,” said Jason. “I am humbled to provide my songs as a framework for them to express their unique points of view. By shining a light on these programs serving our local community’s youth, I want to underscore the importance of access to arts programming for all children in all communities – no matter their gender, race, ability level, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Every child should have the opportunity to find their voice through the arts.”

Paela was first exposed to drums through Banding Together, which sparked her interest in taking lessons. She now takes drum lessons at Avant Garde Studio. It took some effort to get Paela to focus and engage in her classes, as well as to get her on stage to perform at the recitals, but she has now performed in three and did a great job!

(Paela drumming to Justin Bieber's music at her recital)

In addition, Paela also takes classes at Southwestern College with the assistance of her Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) Facilitator Lorinda Elder. TMI is a nonprofit providing services to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Paela is with the TMI Tailored Day Services program, which tailors the client’s day based on their personal choices, hopes and dreams.

“When I first met Paela she was so shy,” said Lorinda. “Since then, she has made remarkable progress. She challenges herself daily to move past her shyness. It was wonderful to watch her on stage and see how much her confidence has grown.”

(TMI Facilitator Lorinda Elder, Paela, Paela's brother and her mom, Janet, after Paela's Shine performance)

Paela plans to continue facing her fears and to “smile and dance.”

Sounds like a great plan! Congratulations on your success, Paela!


Toward Maximum Independence (TMI) has been transforming the lives of children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1981 and the Deaf and Hard of Hearing since 2000. In 2020, we launched Disabled Veteran Employment Services. TMI strives to help our clients to realize their hopes and dreams by providing Employment Solutions, Community Living and Family Support Services throughout San Diego, Riverside and Imperial Counties. To stay connected with us, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Together we can share acceptance and awareness, ultimately contributing to further inclusion.


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